min read

The evolving role of the app

by Babita Earle , 25.10.2013

As 2013 emerges as another ‘year of mobile’, the channel’s growth shows no sign of abating. Global smartphones sales have grown nearly 500% in the last 5 years [1] changing consumer behaviour in profound ways, offering more and more functionality, and becoming increasingly embedded in our lives. With ‘ad dollars following eyeballs’, brands are spending more in their efforts to engage consumers via mobile, with adspend up 127% year-on-year in the UK in H1 2013 to £429m [2]. As a channel mobile provides a very different opportunity for customer interaction, letting brands build campaigns that benefit from context and location, as well as a greater degree of personalisation.

There’s an app for that

Apps are a core part of mobile activity. In May, Apple announced its 50 billionth app download, less than 5 years after the launch of the App Store, and we are downloading more than 800 apps per second [3]. It is widely reported that the vast majority of mobile media usage is through apps, and therefore it is unsurprising that 61% of mobile display adspend in H1 2013 was through apps [4].

But given the crowded app market place, brands looking to build an app must address some key questions. What role will it play? Who do I want using it? Will this be a new audience? How will it work alongside my existing channels?  The last question is a key one and there are some great case studies across a number of categories where, deployed correctly, apps have presented an opportunity for brands to engage consumers and encourage further participation on a more personal, ever-present channel.

Rise of the sofa surfer 

We know that consumers frequently engage with apps whilst watching TV – our Mobile Insights data shows that nearly 50% of mobile internet users connect to the mobile web at some point on Saturday nights, when TV audiences are high.

In a prior blog, ITV’s Jon Block noted that the Britain’s Got Talent app developed for the 2013 series of the UK talent show, handing users their own buzzer, ‘was [ITV’s] most successful play-along game or show-related app ever, with just over one million downloads’ [5].

Online gaming is another area where mobile usage is growing, and becoming increasingly interactive. Bookmakers are putting more and more focus on in-play betting, with the likes of Betfair encouraging us to keep their app handy on a Sunday afternoon, preparing to ‘cash out’.

Even adverts are now ‘app enhanced’. Globally, around 250 ad campaigns can be tagged on Shazam, which uses smartphone mics to match sounds against a central database, unlocking extra content on your handset. Consequently, the concept of ‘Shazamable’ content has entered the vernacular of many marketing and tech professionals [6].

Breaking records and ground

But this interaction of TVs and apps is something that we are very much used to – and what is now developing is the interaction of mobile with other areas such as music. Jay-Z’s latest album, ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’, was available as a free, in-app download, 72 hours before its wider release, to one million owners of certain Samsung Galaxy handsets. The partnership took both the album and app to the top of their respective charts.

Even more recently, app connectivity has entered the console gaming arena. In conjunction with the eagerly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar, the game’s developers, also produced a tongue-in-cheek ‘iFruit’ app. Users can create their ultimate vehicles on their mobile, and train ‘Chop’, the main protagonist’s canine companion, reaping the benefits within the console game. The app ,made available to download 48 hours before the game’s official launch, further increased the hype around a title that went on to make £500 million (just under €600 million) in 24 hours [7].

What does this mean for you?

So, should you be developing an app to enhance your other media?  Possibly, but you need a strong idea of what you want it to achieve; there is no point investing in an app simply because everyone else has one. The objectives for your app should be clearly stated and you need to know where and when you want to engage consumers with it. Our data shows that app usage is no longer the bastion of the 18-24s, over 50% of mobile users accessing applications on their smartphones are 35+, over 10% 55+.  Mobile is opening up these media to a much wider audience, increasing the scope of brands and products that can utilise them.

A final example from Melbourne private rail service, Metro Trains, highlights mobile’s growing reach. In November 2012 they released ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, a black-humoured public service ad campaign to teach people to be more careful around trains. Starting as a YouTube video, it gained notoriety through a mobile app game, and has since amassed over 60 million views. The campaign has been awarded a record number of international advertising prizes, but most importantly, Metro Trains reported a 21% reduction in accidents and deaths since the campaign began [8].

Utilised correctly, apps and their enhancement of other media can go a long way in helping brands achieve great results, whether they be breaking sales records or reducing casualties. Mobile Insights data shows how app usage, and mobile activity in general continues to develop across demographics and contexts, opening up more and more opportunities for brands.

To find out more, click here, or contact Babita Earle babita.earle@gfk.com


[1] GfK Consumer Choices – Global sales data 2008 to 2012

[2] IAB / PwC Digital Adspend H1 2013

[3] http://www.apple.com/uk/pr/library/2013/05/16Apples-App-Store-Marks-Historic-50-Billionth-Download.html

[4] IAB / PwC Digital Adspend H1 2013

[5] http://blog.gfk.com/blog/2013/07/05/how-technology-innovators-and-serial-disruptors-are-shaping-the-future-of-the-media-industry/

[6] http://mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/super-bowl-will-be-shazam-able

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/23/gta-5-sales-records_n_3974476.html

[8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/24/us-australia-advertising-die-idUSBRE95N03L20130624